Police, Camera, Action!

Those of you who have been following our ongoing campaign to develop better relations with the police and to improve their handling of incidents, will know I recently met with West Yorkshire’s Head of Road Policing, Chief Inspector Mark Bownass. You can read about this meeting here, and also the earlier discussion with the Police Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, that led to this meeting.

When I met with Chief Inspector Bownass he made commitments to a number of actions:

  • to speak to the 101 call centre team and emphasize that cycle incidents should be taken seriously

  • to disseminate the fact that video evidence can be used

  • to provide some guidance on what sort of incidents should be reported.

Well a couple of weeks passed and I received an email from Mark, who has been true to his word.

Mark had asked his colleague – and avid cyclist - Sergeant Tom Butler, to do some research into the problems with reporting cycle incidents. Tom discussed this with his cycle club and came up with the familiar tales of riders had being verbally abused or spat at from passing vehicles, deliberately ‘squeezed’, had vehicles encroach into ASLs etc. Reporting incidents to the police was described as difficult, which tended to put off those less confident or ‘robust’ from bothering. Many of the less serious incidents were not reported at all and it took something quite ‘dramatic’ for a rider to call the police.

In the light of this, Mark is looking at other ideas for reporting mechanisms, such as an online tool, or app., or even involving volunteers to view and vet video evidence. These ideas are at an early stage and with resources within the police service nationally bring very tight we should be realistic about an early solution.

What Mark has been able to do already is to speak to those involved in receiving and processing incidents. He has arranged for a message to go to all call centre staff advising them that cycle incidents must be taken seriously, to be logged on the system and passed to local Neighbourhood Policing Teams to follow up – unless the incident is more serious in which case a traffic officer is to attend. He’s also clarified that head cam footage can be used if suitable. Where there is not sufficient evidence to prosecute, Mark confirmed that the police may be able to issue a formal warning, or administer a Section 59 warning (like an ASBO for drivers - any subsequent breach can mean an impounded vehicle).

All this is very helpful and should mean things improve for us when we pick up the phone and dial 101. But what sort of incidents should we be reporting? What greatly upsets one rider might barely register with another, and we don’t want to flood the police with weak cases. We also know that having video evidence can greatly improve the chance of action being taken.

Firstly, if you unlucky enough to be involved in an actual collision in which someone is injured or damage is done to a vehicle or property (including a bicycle) then those involved are legally bound to stop and remain at the scene for a reasonable time. During that reasonable time you should attend to the injured, and call 999 for an ambulance and police as needed. You should also exchange details (name, address, insurance) with those involved, if not immediately then to a police officer or at a police station within 24 hours.

If no one is hurt then the police do not necessarily need to be involved. You should still take personal and insurance details, and report the incident using 101. Be wary about being pressured into ‘being OK’. You might be in shock or have hidden injuries - if in doubt get checked out. Also take note if the driver looks to be under the influence of drink or drugs (call the police).

This is all standard procedure, but what about those ‘incidents’ without collision? Mark confirmed we should be reporting the following:

  • Intimidating driving where it is clear the vehicle is purposely squeezing the rider
  • Verbal and physical abuse (e.g. being sworn at, threatened, spat on etc )
  • Encroaching on riders space at advanced stop markings
  • Incidents resulting in riders taking evasive action and perhaps falling off but not injuring themselves
  • A 3rd party report if either another rider or driver saw a rider being intimidated.

Considering the first three alone you could find yourself being on the phone quite a lot! Whilst it would be good to make the police aware of the scale of the problem facing cyclists, we should be realistic about the ability of the police to respond to everything.

There is also a health warning. The police issued strong advice not to confront drivers, however strong the urge might be. There are occasions where a quiet word can be helpful, to explain to a driver who might just be unaware of something (but only after the ‘red mist’ has subsided). Shouting and swearing, hitting vehicles etc is only going to make things worse, and could get you into trouble. The best advice is to keep calm, record the details of the vehicle and driver, speak to witnesses if possible, and get to a telephone and dial 101. For me as a head cam wearer this means shouting the vehicle registration, vehicle and driver description so my microphone can pick it up (footage of number plates is sometimes fuzzy). This can appear slightly odd to passers’ by!

Hopefully the outcome of all this is that cyclists can feel more confident about reporting incidents, and that the police response will be more positive and consistent. We’ll need to monitor developments as a campaign, so please let us know about your experiences of reporting incidents. And remember, if you feel like you are being fobbed off, or if you are told ‘we cannot use video evidence’, tell them to think again because their boss has spoken!